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Is it okay to like a Mel Gibson movie?

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At what point does a movie star’s offscreen life affect how we see them on screen? Mel Gibson fans have been grappling with that thorny question for a while now. Even before his latest film, the little-seen-but-pretty-good The Beaver (2011, PG-13, 1 hr., 31 mins.), hit theaters back in May, the actor’s long list of sins — the drunken anti-Semitic slurs, the leaked tapes with their bile and barked threats — had changed the way we feel about not only his new movies but his old ones, too. When Gibson first shot to superstardom in the ’80s with The Road Warrior and Lethal Weapon, his unhinged, hair-trigger performances were a huge part of his appeal. We loved him as Mad Mel. But over the past few years, as those same traits bled into his real life so publicly, how could that not sour things? If you go back and watch some of Gibson’s more savage films now, like Mad Max, Braveheart, and Payback, they’re still great. But they’re also a little sobering. Some of the fun is gone. Yes, Gibson is supposed to be as volatile as a flask of nitroglycerin in those flicks — he’s short-fused and haunted, and violence is his business. It’s sad that we now buy those characters even more than we used to. It’s like Method acting taken a step too far. The bigger problem, though, comes when you sit down and reevaluate non-Mad Mel classics like Peter Weir’s wonderful war-torn romance The Year of Living Dangerously, the three-hankie tearjerker The Man Without a Face, and, most problematic of all, What Women Want. Released back in 2000, the Nancy Meyers rom-com was the most female-friendly film Gibson had ever made. It was also one of the biggest hits of his career. And why not? After all, it was charming to see Gibson’s chauvinist rogue reveal his soft, chewy center after he gains the ability to read the thoughts of the opposite sex. Today, nothing about the comedy feels funny or right. Because if there’s anyone who has no clue what women want, it’s Mel Gibson.

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